A series of recent retreats at St Mary of the Cross Parish in Mordialloc and Aspendale has helped parishoners become ‘more confident in their discipleship and articulating their faith with each other,’ according to Parish Priest Fr Andrew Jekot.

Last year, as part of their mission to ‘love God, love others, make disciples’, the parish ran two programs to invite their community to reflect on their faith: The Search, a video series that explores the key questions of every human heart across seven episodes; and Presence: The Mystery of the Eucharist, exploring the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life.

When attendees of these series provided feedback to the parish that they would benefit from more prayer opportunities and a retreat, the parish leadership team (PLT) invited members from Proclaim: the Office for Mission Renewal to assist them in crafting and leading a series of retreats.

The first retreat was held at the beginning of Advent last year, providing an opportunity for the community to participate in an extended period of prayer and reflection in preparation for Christmas. As parishioners were invited to reflect on their own personal relationship with God, a few different prayer styles were used to help them encounter God, including lectio divina, imaginative contemplation and visual contemplation. The prayer experience allowed participants to use their senses to immerse themselves in Scripture, opening the opportunity to encounter Jesus anew.

Times of silence and music were key elements of the day. According to Fr Andrew, ‘People responded well to the periods of silence. They were opportunities to process the input and just “connect” with the Lord in a very organic way. Having an opportunity to stop to enjoy the silence yet be amongst many others is truly profound.’

Building on the success of this first retreat, the parish also held a well-attended half-day Lenten retreat. Reviewing the Sunday gospel readings of Lent provided participants with a bridge from Lent into Holy Week and allowed them to enter a time of prayer with God together. The day incorporated reflective time for people to walk or sit quietly with the Word, along with opportunities for creative expression, and culminated in the second rite of Reconciliation.

During the initial retreat, it was discerned that the parish’s RCIA team would benefit from a dedicated retreat of their own—something that had not happened since before COVID. So, in Lent, an RCIA team retreat was held, with a particular focus on the Trinity: relationship with God the Father was explored through the parable of the Prodigal Son; relationship with Jesus through the story of the healing of the man born blind; and relationship with the Holy Spirit through a reflection on the annunciation. Towards the end of the session, participants shared with each other their own reflections on the day. Falling on Laetare Sunday, the retreat was also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how God constantly rejoices.

Encouraged by the positive feedback, Fr Andrew says, the PLT are keen to continue providing these retreat experiences and ‘will explore other opportunities for prayer’. ‘Parishioners who give so much of their time [to serve in] ministries can see that it is to the greater glory of God that they are involved,’ he says.

Through its Animation consultants, the Proclaim team can assist parishes with resources and strategies to run their own retreats. The team is passionate about helping parishes to grow disciples by first providing opportunities to encounter Jesus Christ. Call (03) 9926 5761 to connect with the Proclaim team.